On Testilying

Joseph Goldstein has an interesting NYT article, ‘Testilying’ by Police: A Stubborn Problem, which updates a 1994 article which introduced me to the term.

TL/DR: Lots of NY cops lie in police reports and on the stand even about behavior that was recorded on camera.

The article does, however, leave two big questions unasked and unanswered. Unanswered is why is it (as the article reports) that NY courts routinely seal the evidence of cops lying? I’d like to know, because it could be that either a rule of court or other change might help reduce or eliminate the practice.

Unasked is why doesn’t the DA’s office have a zerohttp://www.nytimes.com/1994/04/22/us/new-york-police-often-lie-under-oath-report-says.html?pagewanted=all-tolerance policy for police making false statements on official documents, not to mention in court? Here, we can guess the likely answers: First, DAs think that because they have to work with police, they dare not anger them. Second, to the (partial) extent that testilying is designed to get around that pesky 4th Amendment, the police perjury is helping put away ‘bad guys’. Even so, the DA should be put to some prevarications.

And think about what terrible reason those two hypothesized justifications are: some of the perjury is about actual elements of the offense. In those cases, by their cowardice, the DA is allowing substantial numbers of innocent people to plead to, or be convicted of, offenses they did not commit.

As to the cases where the police perjury is about probable cause, it may be true that the victims are in some moral sense guilty of the underlying offense but even so the social consequences are not worth the candle: Police perjury breeds contempt for the Constitution and legal rules on behalf of the police (and the state’s lawyers), and fuels the belief of the arrested that the law is a sham, the police a unconstrained army. (And, worse, it’s only a step from planting evidence. Which I remind you could happen to anyone.) All this is very bad for the country at the best of times, and Trump’s America is not currently enjoying the best of times when it comes to lawfulness.

The rotting of the rule of law runs both up and down.

NOTE: Paragraph 2 above lightly edited for clarity

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